Scrooge turns out to be nice guy

Friday, August 7, 1998

BY CLIFF RADEL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

ganulin
Rick Ganulin
As soon as word got out that some guy from Cincinnati had filed suit to make it unconstitutional for Christmas to be a federal holiday, I immediately thought: Kook.

It didn't matter that the guy, Rick Ganulin, is a 46-year-old lawyer who works in City Hall as an assistant city solicitor. I was all set to lampoon him as a latter-day Scrooge.

He wanted to take away a paid holiday from thousands of hard-working government employees. I could call him the Grinch who stole Christmas from our federal loafers.

That he lived here really ticked me off. Another nut from Cincinnati, I thought, turning us into the nation's laughing-stock.

So I drove out to Hyde Park and met Rick Ganulin in the front yard of his home. Scrooge was playing Wiffle ball with his 8-year-old son. The kook, I must report, turned out to be a nice guy.

During a seventh-inning stretch that turned into a 90-minute conversation, Rick sat on his front porch and told me about himself. Born in Brooklyn. Raised in Cincinnati. Walnut Hills High School, class of '69. Law school at George Washington University.

Then he told me about his reasons for taking Christmas to court.

It bugs him that Christmas is a federal holiday. He believes granting that status to a day rooted in so much religious significance violates the constitutional guarantee that separates church and state.

Rick emphasized he's filing this suit on his own time, not the city's. He insisted he's not out to get rid of Christmas, outlaw midnight church services on Christmas Eve, kill Santa or make it illegal to decorate a Christmas tree.

He was up-front about his beliefs. Raised Jewish, he practices a mixture of faiths. He does not celebrate Christmas. But in December he does display a figurine his Catholic neighbors gave him of Santa Claus wearing a Star of David.

Happy holidays

When our chat was over, I had trouble sorting out my own beliefs.

I love Christmas, the music, the food, the gifts and the stories as well as all the religious and spiritual traditions associated with the day.

And, I'm all for holidays. The more the merrier. You can never have too many of them. And they never last long enough.

Federal holidays are relatively easy to declare. All it takes is for the president and Congress to agree on a date and a reason. From what I've read on the subject, there are no set criteria. Establishing a federal holiday is not like nominating someone for sainthood.

Still, Rick Ganulin has a point. Christmas is a Christian religious holiday and the United States government, by law, cannot endorse one faith over another.

Now, I know Christmas also has powerful secular connotations. To many, Dec. 25 is not a day for religious celebration. It's a day of rest, gift-giving, overeating and going to the movies. In that context, then, Rich Ganulin could very well lose his case.

American way

Win or lose, love him or hate him, he is still well within his rights to take this matter to court.

"I believe in my convictions on this issue," he told me. "The courts will decide if I'm right or wrong."

He's going to meet some tough opposition along the way. Strangers are phoning him at work and calling him names. "Idiot" is one of the nicer ones. Some callers are rushing things and wishing him season's greetings. Then, they call him names.

On Thursday, I heard a rumor that a department store Santa from Cleveland is thinking of launching a counter suit. He wants to make it a class-action suit on behalf of all the little children of the world.

Santa's entitled.

Rick Ganulin is entitled, too.

It's a free country.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.

RADEL ARCHIVES